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AP US Government or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the First Amendment

In the course of this class so far, I’ve been most interested in discovering how vital the First Amendment, more specifically the freedom of speech clause, really is to the integrity of the American system. I’d always been aware of each citizen’s right to speak freely based on the Constitution’s prohibition of “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and knew that as a general rule anyone could say or write whatever they desired. However, it did not occur to me until I began this class just how complex this aspect of the First Amendment is, or just how perfectly the idea of free speech encompasses our fundamental views of government in this country.

In contrast to my initial understanding of the First Amendment, the freedom of speech does not prevent what is known as hateful speech. The amendment is specifically designed to permit that any type of speech that is not expected to incite violence. Although many developed countries around the world, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, have made hateful speech illegal with a penalty of a fine or jail time, the United States has held firm to its belief that speech will be entirely free and unregulated unless it leads to violence. Unlike other countries, our freedom of speech rule does not conform to any sort of societal code or etiquette.

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This strong adherence to such an open-ended decree has set the stage for quite a few instances of rather unappealing and inappropriate forms of speech being upheld by the Supreme Court based on the First Amendment. For example, in 1977 a group of American Nazis was allowed by the Supreme Court to march through an area with a large Jewish community in Skokie, Illinois (Wilson). Even when Ku Klux Klan leader Clarence Brandenburg was arrested for “advocating” violence with his hateful words against the African American and Jewish communities, the Supreme Court overturned his arrest because he only generally advocated violence rather than directly calling a group to “imminent lawless action” (Wilson). Freedom of speech laws in the United States also make it exceedingly difficult for public figures to win a libel lawsuit, seeing as even if they can prove that the published content was false and damaging (the criteria for standard libel suits), they must also prove that it was published with “actual malice” (Wilson).

Based on these examples of freedom of speech being used in a way that isn’t exactly constructive or makes it harder to gain compensation for certain wrongdoings, one might initially harbor negative feelings toward the leeway allowed by the First Amendment, just as I did when I first encountered these stories. But with a closer look at the motives behind this amendment and further reflection, in time I came to appreciate freedom of speech for the truly beneficial aspects it offers to our American society.

Our country’s adherence to the First Amendment stands as a testament to just how open and trusting our government is. Legislators are forbidden from setting down primitive laws dictating what one can or cannot say, giving the American people total control over a key aspect of life. This power in the hands of the people leaves the government vulnerable, as they willingly give up a hugely influence tool of control in favor of the liberty of their citizens. The government must trust the people not to abuse their First Amendment right and to use it as a tool for good rather than for evil. In addition, some ethical aspects of society are legally mandated, such as the illegality of murder or theft; but in the case of speech, morals are more relative and individual. Our country was not designed to mandate how individuals live their private lives, and the first and arguably most famous amendment to the Constitution exemplifies this fundamental belief.

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Freedom of speech is part of our American identity and really a major factor of what sets us apart from the rest of the world. Whether everyone agrees with the individual choices of others to exercise this right is entirely subjective and a personal decision. Even if someone is offended by another’s speech and does not believe the other person should have uttered their offensive comment, both parties are entitled to the right to express their opinions and neither can have their voices muted unless they provoke violence. The ambiguity of the First Amendment may allow for some less than favorable statements to slip through the cracks, but all in all the amendment ensures each citizen’s ability to express ideas that may go against the government’s decrees or the status quo of society. Statements that could not have been made under a stricter system but were permitted because of our nation’s freedom of speech have been a strong factor in the social progress of the past, and will surely continue to allow positive change in the future.

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Works Cited:

United States Constitution, Amendment I

Wilson, James Q. “Civil Liberties.” American Government: Institutions and Policies. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1986. 112-13. Print.

Title inspired by the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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3 Comments

Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Default

 

Voter Discrimination: It Still Exists

Voting discrimination. It’s been around forever. And many people believe that it no longer affects America: no one can be refused the right to vote based on their race, income, gender, or ethnicity. Therefore, everyone (as long as they are over 18) can vote, right? Wrong.

At the beginning of America’s history, each state had different laws that dictated who could and could not vote. At the most restrictive, these laws allowed only adult, white property-owning males to vote. This left out the majority of the population.

Fast forward about 100 years to 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, giving all men (regardless of race) the right to vote. But the Fifteenth Amendment was repeatedly challenged in the South, as states enacted laws that did not openly restrict African American voting, but had basically the same effects. For example, many states enacted grandfather clauses, which held that a citizen could only vote if his or her grandfather had voted. Seeing as though African Americans didn’t have the right to vote in 1810, under the grandfather clauses, no African American would have the right to vote in 1870 either. Besides this, many states only allowed men to vote after they had passed a literacy test, a difficult fete for the many African Americans who had received subpar educations.

Even if the states hadn’t restricted the effectiveness of the Fifteenth Amendment, by 1870 the U.S. was still restricting half of its adult population from voting. It wasn’t until 1920 that women finally got the right to vote under the Nineteenth Amendment.

After the Voting Rights Act (which outlawed all discrimination in voting) was passed in 1965, many believed that voter discrimination was gone for good. But there are still voting laws in affect today that many see as discriminatory.

Many find the very day of the elections discriminatory. Elections happen on Tuesdays; it can be difficult for people with less flexible work hours (who usually receive less income) to leave their jobs in order to go vote. Usually people do not receive compensation for the hours they spend voting instead of working, forcing many to abandon the election polls in favor of earning the money they need. Additionally, transportation can be a problem for voters, as not everyone can find a way to get to the polls. To fix this discrimination against lower class workers, many have suggested declaring Voting Day a national holiday, in which employees can take off work to vote without punishment by their employers or loss of pay.

Some states have enacted laws that require voters to bring picture IDs with them to the polls. This often discourages those without IDs from voting. Keep in mind that the majority of those without IDs are from minority groups; therefore voter ID laws restrict minority voting, which is a form of discrimination.

Although the Voting Rights Act has significantly reduced voting discrimination, America is still far from its ideology of allowing equal participation in democracy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_Rights_Act_of_1965

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_suffrage

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandfather_clause

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Elections & Campaigns

 

Postmodernism in the US Government

I have been taking a Postmodernism class in school and it has opened up my eyes towards the many things that are happening around us. The thing that we talk about the most in Post modernism is the current human nature and how people, in today’s world, are moving away from the idea of “truth” and running behind materialistic things like fashion and celebrities. The truth is that narcissism has taken its toll on the human species . So how does this relate to AP government?

Newsweek magazine recently had 1,000 U.S. citizens take the official citizenship test – and 38% of them failed. “Civic ignorance is nothing new,” the magazine reported. Seventy-three percent didn’t know why we fought the Cold War. (Does the word “communism” ring a bell?) A stunning 70% didn’t know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Sixty-five percent couldn’t figure out that the Constitution was written at the Constitutional Convention. Sixty-three percent got the number of Supreme Court justices wrong. (It’s nine.)

These statistics might be shocking but what else can we expect? If this same test had been about celebrities then everyone would have known everything. The political reality of this world is too much for us. It is too bitter and not as rosy as “normal” celebrity life. People choose to watch reality television on E! rather than watch political debates on CNN. This is what post modernism is about – people run away from reality. The American life is focused around consumerism, fantasy and luxury and that in the long will be detrimental to our progress.

People realize what a democracy is, yet they don’t vote during elections because they don’t want to do jury duty. During the past election I was watching a segment on Jimmy Kimmel live where they went out on the streets of Hollywood and asked people about things that did not happen: like the first lady debate. The funny part was that people actually answered these questions as if they had seen these things happen. They were far too star struck by the camera that was recording them that the content of the question they were being asked  did not matter.

The truth is that humans are running away from truth that, according to the Greek philosopher Plato, is equal to happiness. I am not a misanthrope who judges everyone around her, in fact I am included in this group of narcissistic humans because narcissism is human nature. We are so mesmerized by the illusions that have been created around us that we can’t even see the real life problems. The government shutdown, chemical weapons, war, poverty, diseases etc. – we ignore everything.

ImageProgress is a great thing and I am not against it but in the process, I don’t think that we should forget the reality of life. We need to be aware of our surroundings. Does that mean that we should know everything about politics? Not necessarily, but we should at least attempt to know some things. Living in the exciting but fake world of TV will not get us anywhere. We choose our government because we are lucky enough to be living in a democracy. Do we really want to give up this privilege by ignoring what we see happening right in front of our eyes? We have to think about our choices as citizens. If we want a change in our society then we should be the ones to bring it and this can only happen if we truly face the reality. The choice now is ours to make.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Default

 

How Lucky We Are

When I get political emails from my mom, I usually delete them (sorry Mom!). However, a couple of weeks ago, the title of a certain blog post she sent me caught my eye: “Twenty Things I Learned While I Was in North Korea”.  Like most Westerners, I can’t claim to know much about North Korea. I did know that tourists are hardly ever allowed in, and I was intrigued by the fact that an American had visited North Korea and lived to tell the tale. The post is from the blog Wait But Why, and it consists of twenty of the blogger’s observations, along with lots of photos and videos, from his recent tour in North Korea. The post was shocking, fascinating, and eye opening, and I highly recommend reading it. The photos at the bottom are his, and I won’t reiterate everything he says, but the main point is this: North Korea makes China look like a shining beacon of prosperity and freedom. North Koreans are continually brainwashed with government propaganda, every home is required to display portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and citizens only have access to government-approved television, internet, music, etc. Not to mention the forced labor camps, rampant poverty and starvation, and deteriorating infrastructure, to name a few current problems. Basically, North Korea has managed to completely isolate itself from the rest of the world, and I don’t think anyone outside the country really knows the full extent of the government’s crimes against its people.

                  So what does this have to do with US Government? Personally, reading this blog post about North Korea made me more thankful than ever that I live in the United States. Yes, we have our share of problems. Yes, our government is currently shut down and our Congressmen are acting like 5-year-olds. But you know what? We’re SO INCREDIBLY LUCKY to live here. Often we take for granted our ability to curse our president in public without being sent to a labor camp. We can put up pictures of whatever or whomever we want in our homes. The fact that I was able to publish this blog post, which called our Congressmen 5-year-olds and contained my own personal opinions, is a testament in itself to our nation’s unique dedication to freedom. I’m not saying that our government is perfect or that we should all stop complaining—in fact, I think we should keep utilizing our right to complain. I’m just saying that, in these times of dissatisfaction with our government, we have to remember how exceptional the United States really is.

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Some anti-American propaganda from North Korea

                  To get back to the topic of North Korea, it will be interesting to see what happens there in the future. It’s pretty easy to tell from the blog post that the country is messed up, but I’m sure we only know a fraction of what’s really going on. I hope the situation there changes soon—the citizens are certainly deserving of a government that prioritizes them over the military and nuclear weapons. I don’t know for sure what will happen, but I do know that history has proven time and time again that a government can only repress its people for so long. The Kims’ days are numbered, and hopefully North Korea can become a free, prosperous, relevant nation in the not-so-distant future.

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Portraits like these (of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il) are everywhere in North Korea

Here’s a link to the blog post I’ve been referencing (Warning: it contains some bad language):

http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/20-things-i-learned-while-i-was-in.html?utm_source=List&utm_campaign=9c422a6a55-WBW+%28MailChimp%29&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5b568bad0b-9c422a6a55-41256109

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Default

 

Banging Our Heads on the Ceiling

If you’ve turned on the news during the past week, you’ve heard plenty about the government shutdown and the threat of reaching the debt ceiling. However, what many seem to fail to understand are the implications and consequences of reaching the debt ceiling.

The United States has a perfect record of paying its bills on time. When people lend money to the federal government by purchasing Treasury bonds, they are confident that they are investing in the safest asset in the world. But if we default on our debt for the first time in history, that trust will vanish. The United States would have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money if investors saw that Treasury bonds were actually a risky asset. This would lead to higher interest rates for every other type of borrowing, both in the U.S. and around the world, likely causing a new worldwide recession. It could also cause the value of the dollar to plummet. The resonant effects on the financial system and on the U.S. and world economies would be disastrous.

So why is it such a problem? Can’t the government just pay the investors and cut other parts of federal spending instead? It might be forced to do so, but that would mean immediate and major reductions in income for many Americans as a result of stopping or sharply reducing things like Social Security benefits, payments to doctors and hospitals through Medicare and Medicaid, defense spending, and various other government activities such as homeland security, food inspections, immigration enforcement, weather surveillance, medical research, and many others.  In short, the political reality is that these payments also cannot be stopped for more than a very few days without major damage occurring throughout the U.S. economy. If the government cannot borrow any more money, it would need to reduce a large fraction of its spending, either on interest payments (which would lead to financial default), on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid benefits, or on discretionary spending on defense, education, and the full range of government programs. If this happens, the economy could be thrown into another recession, possibly worse than the one we’re working our way out of now. Of course, the Congress could also decide to increase taxes so that the government would be taking in enough money to meet the country’s obligations. However, it would require legislation for which there is no political support.  Also, such changes could not be put in place quickly enough to resolve the pending crisis with the debt ceiling.

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Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew estimated that on October 17th, the government will have 30 billion dollars on hand – not nearly enough to cover the payments that need to be made, seeing as the government spends up to 60 billion dollars a day. The debt ceiling is an arbitrary limit that prevents the government from borrowing to meet the expenses that it has already agreed to pay. If Congress fails to increase the debt ceiling in time, either the nation’s credit will be damaged with possible catastrophic effects on the world’s financial system, or the domestic economy will suffer a severe blow that will lead to major hardships for many American citizens.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Default

 

“Together or not together? That is a question”

While I am currently studying Shakespeare’s tragedy, the Hamlet, I came across the most famous line in the English literature, “To be or not to be?” You might be now asking, “Crystal, this is a blog for the AP U.S. government class; Are you in the right place?” I am definitely in the right place, because after reading that famous line, I thought about different situations that can fit into the format “….or not….”. The studying style in this class fits perfectly in this case.

As this class is an online class, I experienced the mixed feelings of actually having a class together, but sometimes having to work alone. At first, I found it hard to adjust to the way of learning in the class. I was used to going to class every day and discuss with my friends using the Harkness method. However, later on I started to appreciate the new studying style. For example, I was in love with the discussion posts that we have to do and the commenting on others’ posts. The discussion activities seemed to me less like assignments that we had to do, but rather a platform for each of us to raise our opinions and view what others hold as their thoughts on an issue. Whenever I saw people commenting on my post, no matter if the comment is agreeing or disagreeing with my opinion, I always found it beneficial to me. Do you feel the same way too, peers?

Another favorite activity that I enjoyed was court case presentations. At school, as I am taking more advanced courses, there are less opportunities for me to do group projects. The court case study in this class allowed me to experience the joy to work with others. I can still remember how each of us in the group constantly played a role as the leader, giving advice and suggestions of what and how we shall continue with the problem. I deem the difference to do a project just by communication via emails rather than face-to face work is that the success of the project relies on everyone. Each person takes an essential role, and in this case, it is extremely hard to help others finish a part in order to finish the project. Every teammate has equal responsibilities. I found the picture below aptly demonstrating my interpretation of how the best group works.

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Although every seems to work individually, we are still linked together 😀

Finally, I can answer the “Together or not together” question that I raised. I truly believe that as a class studying together for more than a month, we made connections through different ways. Whether it was just a comment made on discussions, or whether it was the time when we worked as groups on the presentations through busy emailing back and forth. I look forward to studying more about U.S. government with all my amazing peers and teacher!!!

Picture from: http://www.networkautomation.com/urc/blog/automate-online-classroom-training/4eef7d235d641/

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Default

 

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The Art of Compromise

Compromises. There is so much in the world that we have to compromise on – such as the show we watch on T.V. and especially our opinion. While we all understand the importance of making compromises, we can empathize with others when they choose not to compromise for we have often felt the same urge. An example of our not wanting to compromise is found in our childhood. Do you remember those play- dates with a classmate in Kindergarten when you insisted that your Barbie drives the Mustang instead of the Miata although your friend insisted the same car?  I remember that in order to solve this conflict, one would have to compromise. Because I was the guest, my friend was made to compromise by her parents and allow my Barbie to drive the Mustang. If she protested about compromising with me, her parents would threaten her with the end of a play- date and a potential time-out in her room.  Although we did not appreciate learning the art of compromise at this age, it is a lesson we have come to value as we have matured and grown to realize the critical role it plays in our daily lives.

However, some Americans seemed to have forgotten this childhood lesson of compromise. For example, because of the controversial debate over “The Affordable Care Act”, which both the Democrats and Republicans have strong opinions, there has been no action taken to agree on legislation needed to keep our National Government open. Thus, Americans have been outraged because of Congress’ lack of ability to compromise, which has resulted in a shutdown of our Federal Government. In fact, one could even call their refusal to compromise with one another an act of “political grandstanding” as President Obama calls it – or a tantrum. Yes, ladies and gentlemen! Our Congressional Representatives are throwing a tantrum and they need a time-out: childhood style. Who is going to put Congress in time- out? “We, the People” will put our representatives in Congress in time- out by using our democratic- republic to achieve our goal: the grand re- opening of the Federal Government. In times of American disproval of the actions taken by our government, it is especially important that we take advantage of our civil liberties of freedom of speech and our government system and communicate with our Senators and Representatives. We must share with them our feelings of disappointment and defeat and tell them our views on “The Affordable Care Act” in order for them to best represent us. Due to our government structure, if our elected officials do not represent us in our democratic- republic, then we can elect someone that will actually represent our voices in this nation. We must emphasize the importance of our government re-opening because a closed government sends a message to the world: that we are too divided to reach our goals. We, as Americans, know that this message is not the truth at all for we are strong people united in making our democratic- republic the “city upon a hill” it was intended to be. Therefore it is crucial that we require Congress to compromise in order to re- open our federal government.

 

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